KPMG mulls ABS move as it seeks legal expansion

KPMG is looking to recruit a team of corporate lawyers in Manchester as the Big Four firm weighs up an alternative business structure (ABS) conversion as part of a push to expand its legal services offering.

The firm is seeking a Manchester-based team of four or five corporate lawyers to work alongside its tax advisers as non-practising solicitors.

Recruiters in Manchester have been tasked with scouring the local market for a well-established partner-level corporate lawyer to lead the new team, which will focus on intra-group reorganisations.

The accountancy giant is also considering applying for an ABS licence, which would open up the option for it to re-enter the UK legal market a decade after severing ties with its international legal network KLegal, according to sister publication Legal Week.

KLegal was launched in 1999 before KPMG split from the 3,000-lawyer network in 2003 due to “unworkable regulatory constraints” ushered in by the introduction of the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. KLegal’s UK business merged with associated Scots firm McGrigor Donald in 2002 to form McGrigors.

One senior partner in Manchester said: “I suspect KPMG won’t be in the market to compete on the high street, but [this new operation] would instead act as an internal team to advise large groups for which it would normally use top-end law firms. This in itself won’t have a big impact; however, that would all change should it apply for an ABS licence.

“Making an application could indicate it has plans for a separate legal arm, which in the long-term it could grow and develop into a law firm.”

However, one senior partner at a UK-wide law firm cautioned: “KLegal cost KPMG a lot of money to set up and then a lot of money to exit – what has changed? It could cripple them in terms of referral opportunities on deals.”

KPMG also employs a number of lawyers in its London-based commercial, tax litigation and employment teams, and is currently looking to recruit three additional lawyers.

According to the job advertisement for one of the roles, the firm is aiming to expand its existing corporate, commercial, employment and tax litigation teams. “Over the next few years, these teams will grow and legal services will expand into other areas of law that fit within its vision and the needs of KPMG’s clients,” the advert states.

KPMG also offers legal services in countries including Spain, Canada, Belarus and Estonia.

In a statement, KPMG said: “KPMG’s tax practice has long had a number of non-practising solicitors working with their colleagues in the tax team nationwide. This includes the Manchester office where we have had a tax litigation capability for at least the past ten years. In addition to tax litigation support we have a small team of corporate and employment non-practising solicitors to help us provide multi-disciplinary services (usually around intra-group reorganisations) to clients where required and we predict increased demand for this support.

“We have valued and important relationships with law firms, working with them across KPMG on a day-to-day basis on a range of projects and we anticipate this continuing, indeed increasing given the regulatory environment in which we operate.”

Big Four rival PwC operates a separate legal arm, PwC Legal, which provides a range of legal services including immigration, corporate, finance and regulation.

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